From The Sunday Times
January 4, 2009
Blight fears spark call for GM potato
Scientists step up bid to create variety resistant to new aggressive strain
A genetically modified variety of spud may have to be produced in Irish laboratories because of the growing threat from blight.
The fungal disease that wiped out the potato crop in the mid-19th century, causing more than 1m deaths, is posing a renewed menace after a more aggressive strain arrived, according to a leading scientist. This has prompted experts to intensify work, including using GM technology, to find a blight-resistant variety.
Dr Ewen Mullins, a research officer with Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, said the risk of blight has become more serious in the past two years.
He said: “It’s primarily our geographic location. We have humid, damp summers and the past two years have seen outbreaks of blight, probably the worst on record.
“That’s a significant challenge to the industry. Our research shows a new strain has come in. It migrated westward across Europe probably in the past 12 to 18 months. It was in the UK about two years ago and in the eastern counties of Ireland in 2008. It’s a highly aggressive strain.”
Currently, potato farmers have to spray their crops up to 12 times a year. But Mullins and his colleagues at Teagasc’s research facility in Oak Park, Co Carlow, hope to create a variety that will only need to be sprayed four times a year.
The decreased use of pesticides would in turn mean less damage to the environment.
Mullins said farmers relying on normal potato crops would also be affected by new EU regulations aimed at reducing use of pesticides and fungicides. “If we were to reduce chemicals by up to 40% on our potato crop, that would challenge potato growers,” he said. “We [think] GM is worth investigating from that point of view.
GMO potatoes and their links to cancer:
Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Saturday, 17 February 2007
Campaigners against genetically modified crops in Britain last are calling for trials of GM potatoes this spring to be halted after releasing more evidence of links with cancers in laboratory rats.
UK Greenpeace activists said the findings, obtained from Russian trials after an eight-year court battle with the biotech industry, vindicated research by Dr Arpad Pusztai, whose work was criticised by the Royal Society and the Netherlands State Institute for Quality Control.
The disclosure last night of the Russian study on the GM Watch website led to calls for David Miliband, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to withdraw permission for new trials on GM potatoes to go ahead at secret sites in the UK this spring. Alan Simpson, a Labour MP and green campaigner, said: "These trials should be stopped. The research backs up the work of Arpad Pusztai and it shows that he was the victim of a smear campaign by the biotech industry. There has been a cover-up over these findings and the Government should not be a party to that."
Mr Simpson said the findings, which showed that lab rats developed tumours, were released by anti-GM campaigners in Wales. Dr Pusztai and a colleague used potatoes that had been genetically modified to produce a protein, lectin. They found cell damage in the rats' stomachs, and in parts of their intestines.
Now the Greens have the chance to do something both positive and popular, nip this in the bud and declare this country GMO free.
Will they I wonder. Probably not.